Last week we saw what they wanted to see in a script for the show. We covered believablity before the days of technobabble. Now we’re at the part of the writer’s guide where potential contributors to Star Trek: The Next Generation season one were told what things they didn’t want to see in the series. These were things that “don’t work for us”. Let’s see how long it took before they changed their minds.
Stories that don’t materially involve our crew: That one’s kind of obvious. For season one you really want to get to know the new characters, but even in later seasons they should be involved somehow. Even that episode that featured some of the below deck characters during a mystery (I wish I remembered that episode’s name), or Reginald Barclay still had the characters as supporting cast, but only on those rare occasions and usually the story was “how do other people see the main cast”, which is always an interesting story if only in concept.
We do not do stories about psi-forces or mysterious psychic powers: Well, that’s not completely true. The history of Star Trek includes many people with powers other than Troi’s telepathy, the only acceptable power according to the guide. (And of course her own people are all full telepaths). Nothing like pyrokinesis but they’ve also had telekinesis or even stronger powers like Charlie X or the later season story where a normal girl began developing Q-type powers. And of course you have the Vulcans and their telepathic powers or the aliens from “The Cage/Menagerie” who could cast illusions and the “sorcerers” that harassed the original crew, other god-like aliens both with and without the use of technology, some of which were actually worshiped as gods on Earth and other worlds…really, would psychics really stand out that much in Star Trek? Not every ultra powered being has had “generally accepted scientific theory” explanations as to how their powers work.
We are not buying stories which cast our people and our vessel in the role of “galaxy policemen”: They mention the Prime Directive, which has its own section of the guide and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I like the line “Nor is our mission spreading 20th Century Euro/American cultural values throughout the galaxy”, neglecting to mention that they will spread Roddenberry’s version of 24th Century Federation cultural values. There were times when they were in the right and wrong but I think that can be covered in the Prime Directive area. As far as “galaxy policemen”, they do mostly stay to that except when the crew is in danger, but they will try to find a better solution if they can.
We are not buying stories about the original Star Trek characters: Outside of McCoy’s torch-passing appearance in the first episode, they stuck to this for season one. Swiping plots? “The Naked Now” was in season one, so yes. Throughout the whole series we had Scottie show up via technobabble so they could compare him and Geordi, Sarek didn’t show up until season three, and meant that referencing the old series was now possible, Spock shows up trying to unify Vulcan, and Captain Kirk plays a strong role in the first TNG movie, with both Mr. Scott and Chekhov making a cameo. It makes sense for the same reason as the first no-no, because they need to sell the new cast and referencing the old ones constantly would have made for comparisons rather than let the new show find its own place. Not that it stopped fans from constantly debating Kirk vs. Picard, when we all know the answer is Sisko.
Writing fantasy instead of science fiction and Writing “swords & sorcery”: This might as well as been one section really. Again they’re calling for something based on established fact, like creating the transporter or the Q or the aforementioned sorcerers and gods from the original series. I mean, I get not wanting to do the “Middle Earth” type fantasy but it’s not like the Star Trek franchise hasn’t fudged their science more than once into a fantasy hidden as science, what they call science fantasy. (For example trying to scientifically explain The Force over in that other Star-titled franchise.) But there is a way they not only could get away with it and in one episode did to a degree: the holodeck. Maybe not in season one but if they can play detectives like Sherlock Homes and Dixon Hill (the latter being a creation of the show) and various other scenarios why not a fantasy setting? The question being whether or not they could do it without the traditional holodeck malfunction turning it dangerous.
Treating deep space as a local neighborhood: While the guide doesn’t mind other shows doing this (they even suggest it would be fine and fun on Space Rangers, a title they made up but was later the title of an actual show, and come to think of it was about “galaxy policemen”) they wanted to create an actual sense of time taking between going from planet to planet, which makes a whole lot of sense and does allow the story to stop a bit for character moments. You can always speed the story a few hours or days ahead if you need to.
Star Trek is not melodrama: You can probably nitpick this one from episode to episode.
No stories about warfare with Klingons or Romulans and no stories with Vulcans: While this does lose the chance for an excellent story like “Balance Of Terror”, considered one of the best episodes of the original series, or the final battle of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, this may have to do with Roddenberry’s altered vision for TNG, wanting to downplay military aspects. This is why the phasers look more like TV remotes than guns now and the “galaxy policemen” comment from earlier in the guide. I’m guessing this is just to increase the aliens because all three would eventually show up. The Romulans returning was actually a big deal. This was written before Worf was created, and the ship would have a Vulcan doctor backing up Drs. Crusher and Polaski.
Stay true to the Prime Directive: Yeah…that one’s a bit tricky. I’ll point you to the second video on this page. The main feature is SF Debris’ review of the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Dear Doctor” but the second video comes from that and explains why the Prime Directive is a questionably executed concept. Plus there’s a season two episode, “Pen Pals” in which they have a big discussion about the Prime Directive versus the moral thing to do. There are times when violating the Prime Directive is the right thing to do, but those are under extreme conditions, like in when you can keep a civilization from extinction without interfering in internal matters or corrupting their society. Under bad writers the Prime Directive is either poorly ignored or poorly adhered to as the “word of God”. There are good reasons it exists but bad reasons to follow it fanatically. A good story could explore that, and has. A bad story will make the heroes look like horrible people.
Plots involving a whole civilization rarely work: This needs a disclaimer as well because in most science fiction, including Star Trek, planets usually to always have only one culture and worldview, including Earth. It’s almost a requisite for joining the Federation. You not going to deal with the whole planet, just certain representatives needed for the story. It would just be a mess, so I’m not even sure why this is here. That’s just good writing. You don’t do a story set in Topeka and have the characters interact with all of Kansas.
Mad scientists, or stories in which technology is considered the villain: Given how many times the holodeck has tried to kill the crew, the episode “The Arsenal Of Freedom”, in which an automated arms dealer tries to demonstrate its product on its potential buyers BEFORE making contact, the M-5 incident in the original series, and that’s just what I can think of off-hand I have to question this one. Science abused is good science fiction and good Star Trek as well as bad science fiction and bad Star Trek. It depends on the writer and director, plus whatever meddling the folks upstairs like to do. You don’t have to be a “Luddite”, as the guide states, to fail to comprehend advanced technology you haven’t seen before or deal with someone who misuses current tech. I also wonder where the Borg fit into this?
Stories in which our characters must do something stupid or dangerous (we’re saving that for Voyager and Enterprise) or in which our technology breaks down in order to create a jeopardy: This one got abandoned rather fast. I again refer you to the holodeck trying to kill the crew in “The Big Goodbye”. And as far as “stupid” you can nitpick episodes for that as well, but this one is better defined. “Likewise our characters are very committed to their ship, their crewmates, and their mission. Please do not have them abandoning or betraying same because they’ve fallen in love with a beautiful pirate princess.” I’m guessing that’s just a general example but it does make sense. If Captain Kirk let a woman he’d fallen for die to keep time on track and not let Hitler mow over the Americans, dedication to the mission is rather important for the characters. Conflicted or tricked maybe, but then that crew member better be important in undoing the damage and feel sorry for being scammed or mind controlled.
So that’s what not to do to make a good TNG episode according to the season one guide, and most of the time season one adhered to it. Next time we’ll conclude the scripting with a look at the formatting of a TNG script. This should be a short one.